Editorial: The unending battle for transparency

Published: 3/15/2020 6:00:22 AM

Today marks the beginning of “Sunshine Week,” the annual attempt to increase transparency in government.

Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent, citizens the right to know whether their elected officials and public servants are acting in the best interests of all and not the few or themselves. They have the right to know whether the law is being applied equally to all, to know that their vote counts, to be informed of proceedings carried out in their name.

The coming week’s campaign, of which this editorial is part, could not come at a more opportune time.

The media, and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, wage a near-constant battle with government at all levels to make and keep public information public. The Monitor, for example, recently went to court to find out exactly what sort of secret technology or service Concord’s police department bought with $5,100 of taxpayers’ money. The paper lost. This paper, and others, are also in court fighting for the release of more information on the investigator’s report on Concord School District’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against a veteran teacher.

These are important issues. They pale, however, when compared to the life and death issues presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

A few days ago, the Reuters news agency reported that the Trump administration ordered that top-level meetings of health officials to discuss what is now a global pandemic be classified. Some federal employees with expertise were excluded. Reporters at a press conference on the threat were barred from recording video or audio of a coronavirus meeting and permitted only photos.

Vice President Mike Pence is the leader of the national effort to combat the virus and the person who apparently ordered that all comments by federal health officials be cleared through his office. So much for transparency.

Meanwhile, the president continues to peddle misinformation and mislead the public about the seriousness of a virus that could claim thousands or even millions of lives.

More than a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. ” Let’s hope, now that the spotlight is on the administration’s bungled response to the pandemic threat, that the public will be told the truth, however grim it might be.

Even democratic governments have a penchant for secrecy, which sometimes offers short-term political benefits (withholding bad news until after an election is one example). But secrecy undermines government legitimacy in the long run. It is, as many have said in the past, the enemy of democracy and a threat to security.

“Let people know the facts, and the country will be safe,” Abraham Lincoln said.

Sunshine Week calls attention to a task that must be performed 24-7-365, the job of keeping government, and every element of commerce and society, honest. No one should fear asking tough questions; everyone should expect factual answers. It’s the only way the republic can survive.




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2020 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy